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Today, bewildered - #autism and the boy

 
This boy... so incredibly lovable, he has my head spinning at the moment. Today was a particularly epic day. The kind that hindsight would advice to skip, stay in bed, don't even try. But who knows that, in the morning, right?


So, aside from the (not uncommon) reluctance to get out of bed and face school, the 75 minute separation process once I did get him there (all three kids that constant five minutes late), the skeleton onesie pyjamas being worn at school all day and the kicking, fighting, biting, beside-himself meltdown after the final bell this afternoon... aside from that, there's this feeling. The word that fits, I think most accurately, is bewildered.

I know this kid, and I know him really well. But I still find myself bewildered, wondering one day (yesterday to be precise) if a certain pattern will be our new status quo, and then flipping that back again the very next. It's not about the separation anxiety, at least, not specifically. And not about the meltdown - as amplified as his response was, there was a catalyst there.

I think the hardest thing to get my head around is the inconsistency. I am bewildered by what is different from one morning to the next. By the need to make decisions about what is best for this amazing, complex 9 year old boy, with conflicting evidence from day to day, week to week, about what those best things might be. He can be such a joy to have around, and he adores me - his anchor, his mum - like nothing else in this world. But these things won't give him an education. Hugs and teddies aren't going to make him friends. Social thinking can't be learned from one person alone.

At the moment, we are part way through the intake process at Cheshire school, a transitional school for kids with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, for Ash, as recommended by his psychologist. It's an investigative process, where actual enrolment isn't decided until a certain stage of the process, and we are not there quite yet. We're part way through. So, there have been a lot of considerations to think about, and the possibility of big change ahead. But the possibility of it not happening is there too. It's up in the air. Good things on both sides - the change, or not to change. The private, specialist school, the increased transitions, the hectic schedule for me as the driver (an extra two hours of driving a day), but the chance that this is what will work for him. And the possibility that it won't.

The principal / psychologist from the school observed Ash in his current school and classroom the other day, and we spoke a little later that afternoon. There were a lot of good points, and I agree fully with them all - he engages well with his peers, with assistance can work on the required tasks, seems generally liked by others, doesn't seem anxious within the classroom space. She could see a few things we'd spoken about as well, but the areas of concern were more subtle. These are all true things. I started to wonder if maybe this new school idea won't be the necessary goal. I hope we can avoid the big change, despite the potential benefits, for the sake of appreciating the things Ash likes about where he is at, things he would have to sacrifice to change schools. And, to be brutally honest, save the money, and driving.


But then, today, pyjamas, the morning refusal again, and the chair-tossing, workbook-ripping, heart-breaking meltdown over the end of the day, over time running out, and him not being able to do his show and tell after all. Just a final straw, on a hard day. The red beast took over, he says, and while it took half an hour to come back to a calm place, five minutes after we got home he was all hugs and apology. He's a beautiful boy. And I can easily see it. Tackling life is just a bit too much to ask sometimes.

Bec's Baby Shower - Vintage Glam styling gorgeousness!




Twin girls are on their way, and we put on a beautiful party to celebrate for my lovely cousin. Her bestie and I organised the party, and I got to do my favourite parts of a party - styling and decoration :)


So, a couple of weeks ago I took the kids over the border once more, off to Adelaide with a car full of silver trays, white tablecloths, paper flowers and vintage books. I'd spent my spare time in the weeks before making tassle garlands, a lace garland, designing activity cards and creating paper flowers. We stayed with my little sister and nephew, giving the kids a fun end to their school holidays running amok with their cousin for a day or two before the party! I took the chance to do some baking with my sister, using our family favourite chocolate cake recipe, and trying out her thermomix when making the cinnamon buttercream icing.


 

When setting up Bec's space, it was great that the fairy lights and tissue paper balls still hung beneath the decking roof, left from her wedding party last year. We added a range of umbrellas and parasols, to suit the 'baby shower' theme, in a mix of white and magenta (our party theme colours). I loved this, they looked so whimsical and gorgeous! Across the fairy lights, I strung the lace semi-circle garland that I'd made diagonally, and added the tassle garland around the edges of the decking area.







On the morning of the baby shower, tables were set up and all covered, including the permanent BBQ, with white tablecloths and fabric. Silver trays, cut glass, burlap strips, fresh ivy, vases of fresh magenta and white flowers, potted colour, gilt frames and vintage books were all placed around the tables, including two activity areas. But the food table was my favourite, everything book paper, magenta and flowers, it was so pretty. It looked even more magical in real life.





The party was really fun and happy, with our make shift photo booth (wall) and a gorgeous array of food and drink to share. I even hopped in front of the camera for a few myself (the evidence is below). Bec felt adored, everyone loved the styling and look of it all, and there are some very fun photos to keep! I call that a win :)


For guests and friends, the rest of the photos can be seen (and web-quality copies downloaded) at http://curiouser.shootproof.com/becsbabyshower


Family photography and autism, part two: Exercising delight




In my last blog post, I wrote about my belief in the importance of family photography, more specifically for the family with autism 'in the mix', meaning with a family member on the autism spectrum (ASD, or ASC). These are my personal feelings, about something that just makes sense to me, not about any studies or academia or whatnot. This is something that is valuable to me. So, in the first part of this blog series I focused on the value for the visual learner, the autistic person. Read more about that here. But wait, there's more... (I've got a busy little brain when it comes to this topic!)

Spectrum kids often struggle – socially, emotionally, with sensory processing, and so on – with their everyday life. An average school day can be monumentally challenging for them, and overwhelming in all different ways. Their family and home is, even more than for most kids, their safe place. Sometimes, as other mums will know, being a safe place doesn't always mean we get their best behaviour! But we are their haven, and often their translators, in a world of overwhelm and uncertainty. So the bond, the need, is just woven that little bit more tightly, keeping us - as their anchor - nice and strongly secured.

Firstly, this is a precious relationship, a unique relationship, with the beautiful and treasured connection between parent and child, between family members, enhanced by the intensity of the autism experience. From going through the diagnostic process, to the way we look at the world through their eyes, and filter the world for them when we can, there is an added layer to our family life that can be brilliantly rewarding, and supremely difficult at times. This is a relationship that deserves documenting, capturing and remembering.



That this is valuable, worth capturing, enjoying and celebrating, is ever true of these intricate family ties, which are always 'limited edition' and everchanging in every family. And so, this is ever more true of any family with special challenges in their lives.

Secondly, with these additionally layered family ties, these bonds can be even harder to cherish in the everyday. Where parents may be carers, therapists and advocates as well as mother or father; where the behaviours they work through may involve aggression, non-communication, self-destruction and anxiety; where the worries and concern stretch years into the future as well as each hour of the day... these relationships can, at times, be exercises in endurance. Not that there aren't moments of gratitude, reward and delight - and those are wonderful times – but there are certainly seasons where it is hard to stop coping and celebrate. Honouring these relationships is an exercise in optimism and gladness, and a deliberate focus on what is uniquely brilliant about our particularly different kids. Sometimes we're just too tired.

Taking that time to organise, lead up to and participate in a family photography session is beautiful, and meaningful, and a gorgeous testament to the strength you draw on every day of your life. It's a celebration of the individuals that make up your stunningly unique family, and a celebration of the love you share. Because of it all, despite it all, sometimes not and then twice as much again. This is real, this is extraordinary, this is powerful. This is you.

Family photography and autism, part one: Pictures of love


It is my personal belief that it is even more important for a family with autism in the mix to have family photography, even more so than an apparently typical family. Don't get me wrong, I do always feel that it is so valuable and meaningful for families to celebrate their milestones, their togetherness and their beautiful connections. I really do. But my reason for that statement is partly about the person/people on the spectrum, and partly about the experience of parenting with autism in the mix.

Today, I'm just going to talk about the value for the autistic person. Let's just assume in this article that we're talking about a child or youth. It applies to adults as well, and it actually applies to a lot of non-autistic, visually oriented people as well, but in this instance I will use the example of an autistic child. I am also thinking about my own children when I write, so there's my disclaimer ;)


Basically, with autism, a person's visual processing speed is often vastly superior to their auditory comprehension. Temple Grandin explains how she thinks in pictures. My middle child, Ash, for an example from my own family, had a visual processing speed at the 88th percentile of his age when he was tested at 5 years old. His auditory processing was at the 22nd percentile. That's a large disparity, yes, which is often part of the diagnostic screening in itself. But it's the real life application that is the thing.

If someone says something to Ash, it is processed far slower than a typical child of his age. Processing time is really important, and if a lot of information is spoken at once then some of that information will invariably fall through the cracks, because his auditory processing skills are not at the level that you might expect. However, if someone shows him something, it is processed far more quickly than a typical child. Visual patterns, systems, instructions, concepts - everything that goes in to his brain through visual means is easier to process, understand and respond to, or take on board.

Being told 'I love you' is beautiful, and true, and supportive. In the moment we say it, it is a meaningful, connective gesture. It is a genuinely lovely gesture, and one which we repeat, often.
My family, photographed by Angie Baxter www.angiebaxter.com.au
Being able to see 'I love you' visually, a gorgeous image of that bond you share, a photograph that becomes woven into the landscape of their everyday, that is beautiful, and true, and strong. That is a visual foundation of what home, and family, really mean to them. With no words needed, that 'I love you' moment reminds and anchors them each and every day, and that is powerful.

Autism, motherhood and photography

Sienna sums us up in magnetic poetry (children's version)
Just over a year and a half ago, I realised what my passion was. Is. Could be. It came to me suddenly, and clearly, and since then has constantly been percolating in the back of my mind. It's not something wildly different, for me, but rather something that has been gaining clarity progressively over the last couple of years. And something that is deeply important to me, both as a mother and a photographer.

The thing is, I am a professional photographer. It's taken me a long time shooting to get to this place, and I've technically been here for a few years now. While I have dabbled in fashion, commercial, nature, and I've enjoyed weddings as well, I feel that I am primarily a family and children portrait photographer. I really love it. Even before becoming a mother, I was always most excited by photographing children – so unpredictable, challenging and joyful.



The other thing is, I am a mother. I was a photographer first, but I've been a mum for over 11 years now. And for more than 6 of those years, I've been a particular type of mum, I guess you could say. An autism mother. I've written about my family before, and they are uniquely amazing and fascinating to me. Sometimes challenging, particularly when transitions or social demands push them past their comfort zone.

Sometimes I feel I need to clarify, I don't have my head in the sand either. Things aren't always easy, but they could be a lot harder too. Today it took an hour before my 9 year old would let me leave him at school. This morning my 11 year old wanted to curl up in the fetal position in the boot of our car because her drawing wasn't perfect, I had to hold her back so that I could take her into her regular appointment with her psychologist. My 5 year old screamed - and I mean really screamed - whenever the sunshine came through his side of the car during our drive home. This is all pretty typical stuff for our everyday life on the spectrum. But that's ok. We have moments. We move on. And I think they're overall pretty brilliant people.

And from here comes my clarity...

My heart feels most rewarded by the surge of love and meaning that I get from offering family photography to other families with autism, additional needs and special challenges. It feels gloriously important and beautiful to me, to be that person for a family, to be there to see them, to see their connection, their bond and their love. To be comfortable and relaxed enough that I react easily and lightly to any difficulties that arise during a photo session, to any uncertainty that comes in to play. I can give you that, the calm, the fun, the seeing of who you are. And, more importantly, the capturing of that.

This is something I can give, that I love to provide, which has value far beyond the cost of a session fee, or anything else. I can give a family a treasure, which is not only an acceptance, but rather a celebration of how wonderful they are. Real, flawed perhaps – as we all are – but true and together and beautiful in that. It's important, it's who your family is. It's your story. It's your wonderland.

This what I am going to do.